UAE's lawmakers find ways to respect tradition but also welcome the world
Growing up in the UAE I often felt like a global citizen, though it has taken me some time to realise what this term means. But on this anniversary of the UAE's founding, I think I've come to understand.
When people came to the UAE in the 1970s they were connected not because they were neighbours or worked together, but because they felt that they'd arrived home. Many of these original arrivals are still in the UAE today.
It is easy to forget the giddiness of those early days, where unity and collective equality were guiding principles. Modern life has changed the dynamics of socialising among the various communities; over time, some communities failed to connect with some others. But there's no going back, and everyone who calls the UAE home will go forward together.
In the global legal literature, the definition of citizenship typically involves the relationship and obligations between the individual and the state. But the version I believe applies to the UAE is associated with constitutionalism and the rule of law. In fact, the definition of UAE citizenship challenges the conceptions used in many other countries.
That's because it is the UAE legal and judicial system that has played the most important role in establishing the unique relationship people have with the state and its authorities. Indeed, the UAE's legal system has enhanced and promoted universal rights shared by all.
As a second generation lawyer, I grew up in the law business with my father; I was always associated with his cases and clients. As a law student, and then as a lawyer here, I literally grew up with the laws of this land, since the law itself was developing and growing as I was.
And like any self-critical young adult I looked at the UAE justice system with the same critical eye that I cast on myself.
At times I become alarmed observing introduced drafts of laws which have been recipes for social division, and I worried that the rule of law might be weakened. At other times I was thrilled to observe national advisory bodies taking into consideration the unique social fabric of the UAE. But through it all I was inspired.
From the day the constitution of the UAE was passed the lawmakers of this country were fully aware of the unique fabric of the citizenship of this country. They managed to pass various pieces of legislation aimed at regulating the relationship between the people and the state, and the governance of the authorities and institutes, with great wisdom and judgment.
Today, the legislative structure reflects the UAE rulers' determination to turn the country into a prime destination for investment, trade and tourism through an established structure of modern laws and regulations open to foreigners.
They did this by blending an interpretation of Sharia with certain customs and policies of non-Muslim expatriates. But at the same time, the UAE's legal framework has maintained the integrity and values the founders intended.
One recent decision illustrates this point. Aimed at reinforcing Dubai's reputation as the business hub of the region, and helping establish Dubai as a dispute-resolution centre, the government expanded the powers of Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) courts. Investors rejoiced.
As a mother of three Emirati children, a lawyer and advocate in this distinctive jurisdiction, I pray that the UAE's laws will continue developing, and that rule of law will continue to expand and mature to allow people to fulfil their dreams individually and collectively.
In a country with so many "global citizens" I would not expect anything less.
Diana Hamade is an Emirati lawyer based in Dubai and the founder of International Advocate Legal Services
Published: December 1, 2011 04:00 AM